A man finds a woman he is interested in, falls in love with her and asks for her hand in marriage. She accepts his proposal after months of courting each other and falling in love with him too. He goes with her to her parents’, does the necessary introductions, and then comes at a later date where the date for the wedding is fixed. The day of the wedding comes, and the bride is filled with radiance and exudes an aura of happiness that is contagious by everyone around her even the jealous ones who envied her for her good fortune as she is getting married to someone she loves and not like them who were forced into marriage before they were ripe for it. Her father would even be right there giving her off to the man of her dreams and they would live happily ever after.
Safiyat! Safiyat!! Safiyat!!!, this removes our character from her much needed moment of reverie only grudgingly though, she goes out of the thatched hut which she and her elder sister had shared before she was flung off in marriage to the ‘pot- bellied chief’ as Safiyat constantly refers to her sister’s husband out of spite that her sister’s life was ruined because of him. “At least I get to have the hut to myself”, she mused and that brought a smile to her face as she hastened to answer the call of her mother.
Safiyat is from the Northern part of Nigeria. She belongs to a family of 10 including her parents and is the second daughter of the 2 girls and 6 boys her mother gave birth to after series of miscarriages. Safiyat attends the local junior secondary school in her village and is in the last class before she joins the girls’ senior secondary school in Kwali which is about 5 hours journey from her village on bicycle. She is unperturbed by this because as far as she knows, it is just another step for her to become a renowned writer; her greatest desire since she started reading books by the renowned writer- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which she obtained from her school’s library.
Her parents are farmers and find it difficult to feed their 8 children. With the ever present sickness of Mr. Musa- Safiyat’s father, it has become a great burden to send the children to school, eat, and still afford to pay for his medical bills. Safiyat has been constantly told by her mother that she might have to stop school if her father’s health condition doesn’t improve.
Safiyat didn’t want to be married off like her elder sister was to the ‘pot-bellied chief’ who already had 6 wives before her sister and she knows that dropping out of school would definitely lead her to getting married. Her teacher calls her the brightest in class because of her constantly topping her class at the end of every term and also supports her dream of becoming a writer by helping her assess her write-ups as well as correcting and rewarding her when necessary. She also remembered her teacher talking about the effects of early marriage in their ‘girls let’s talk series’ which holds every Friday where all the girls in her class and junior classes gather in one of the school’s classroom to discuss issues ranging from menstrual hygiene, health status, relationship life, family life, sexuality, career path, how to live good and healthy life and every matter regarding the girl child.
Her teacher mentioned at the meeting that they stand to lose their chance at becoming something better for themselves, then there is the issue of early conception which might even lead to their death or the death of the child, contacting sexually transmitted diseases, exposure to sexual and domestic violence, high blood pressure, premature birth, post partum depression( PPD), suicide, and one which she promised herself never to forget called Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF). This one struck her because her teacher even took more time in the meeting by bringing in a health specialist to relay more information on that.
The health specialist laid it on without cushioning it at all. She explained that Fistula is reportedly one of the most dangerous epidemic caused by child marriage. “An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor, leaving a woman incontinent of urine, faeces, or both according to the International Fistula Foundation”, she recollected the health woman quoting that explanation as vividly as she remembers she has to do everything in her power not to get married without achieving her goal of becoming a renowned writer. The health specialist had gone further to say that chronic medical problems like kidney disease, infertility, and recurring infections can occur as a result of Fistula. She also recollected the health specialist explaining why that happens. The health specialist had explained that it was because an under aged girl whose body was not developed enough for child bearing had sex and went through childbirth. This inevitably opens the door for Fistula to occur.
She remembered being afraid for her sister- Aminatu as well as Hassanat and Rahmatu; two of her closest friends who had to drop out of school a year before to get married because of the inability of their parents to cater for the education of their respective brothers as they were each the only daughters of parents who found it more important for their sons to be in school than waste it on female children who if left to continue with school, would bring only shame to the family by messing around with boys and probably losing their virginity. Now they all might have the dreadful Fistula, she quickly asked Allah for mercy for wishing bad luck upon someone else- although she thought again, this is reality unfortunately. It’s not like there is a way to find out if they had it or not with the only health clinic in the village having just one doctor who for sure would not sacrifice the lives of his other patients just to conduct a test on young girls with no physical ailment; she thought again.
It had further strengthened her resolve not to drop out of school as well as not get attached to the man her mother called her out of her reverie to introduce her to who happened to have a bigger pot-belly than that of her sister’s husband; so she can provide a good life for herself and her family. Her mother had summoned her to inform her that the man who introduced himself as Chief Aliyu, had been of great help with their financial needs and has even offered to clear her father’s outstanding hospital bills.
She winced at the thought that the man had done just like her sister’s husband was doing before her sister was married off to him just when she was supposed to write her Junior WASSCE exam.This made her further upset that her mother had disturbed her sweet reverie just to make sure the man sees her and analyzes her. “Allah be praised, I didn’t bother with my looks” she thought as she glanced down to observe how ordinary she looked.Although, she knew from the frequent meetings of her teacher’s ‘girls let’s talk series’ that it was very inconsequential if she looked good or not as the man would only be interested in her if she fit the criteria of being very young; submissive- “he wouldn’t expect what hit him in the face if he marries me”, she thought and laughed inwardly; her family was in dire need of financial support- “which happened to be true unfortunately!” she thought; to foster the non- existent political career of her parents- at least that didn’t concern her, she laughed inwardly again; she was from a family with several children ensuring her childbearing ability- “I doubt he is aware of my mother’s miscarriages, he would have thought twice before coming here”, she laughed inwardly yet again then chided herself for laughing at something that sensitive.
“Okay! I have little hope in chasing this one away, the other ones didn’t even last a week, this one would even be easier. Allah be praised for bringing Aunty Amina to my school. Her tricks in the meetings on how to chase away unwanted attention from men we want no part with has been working. It won’t disappoint me this time. Allah be praised forever!”….This line of thought was cut short when she suddenly realized attention has been brought to herself with how quiet she was and cringed when she realized that now, she would fit into the man’s type of woman as her quietness in the course of time he and her mother were conversing would now be mistaken for absolute submissiveness- “if only he knows where my mind has been”, now she smiled outwardly at the thought and looked up only for his eyes to meet hers. She bent her head and berated herself for losing guard even with all the enlightenment from her Friday meetings. “Now the old cargo thinks I am blushing”, she thought and silently hissed.
45 YEARS LATER
In a seminar room filled with thousands of people, mostly females and with lots of media personalities fighting for a chance to be at the forefront and have a good shot at the beautiful young lady giving an address with her voice resonating in the large hall to the very large crowd who were listening to her with rapt attention. The occasion was the book launch of the biography of Mohammed Safiyat Sanusi- a renowned writer and a child bride advocate as well as crowd funding for Fistula Foundation Hospital and Counseling centre organized by ‘I refuse to be a Child Bride Foundation’.
“…..Early child marriages can be put to a stop with the right amount of support from all those involved. Females can decide for themselves and stand to say this is what I want to achieve and I won’t let anything stand in my way. They can’t do this on their own if people of importance in the society don’t give them enough education and enlightenment on how they can go about it by creating soft discussion groups like the ‘girls let’s talk series’ organized by my late mother’s teacher. This series as you shall see in my mother’s biography helped in shaping her life in no small measure. She was able to escape the clutches of so many men who came to cart her off to be a baby making factory and be subjected to a life where her dreams would have been crushed to powder. She died in a car accident after having achieved recognition home and abroad for her approximately 70 published writing works and about 50 yet to be published; she got married to somebody she loved- my father and had me and my 2 sisters who are also much invested in advocating for the girl child especially child brides like our mum was doing before she died.
In order to refuse to be a child bride, the girl child should first set goals for herself and do everything to make the goals come to fulfillment. Society should also help by creating foundations like ours to provide empowerment opportunities vis-à-vis soft loans for her parents, scholarship opportunities, skills acquisition, etc to enable the girl child acquire independence in fighting the battle of early child marriages like my mum was able to as you shall read in her book- ‘I REFUSED TO BE A CHILD BRIDE’. The proceedings from this book will go into creating Fistula foundation hospitals and counseling centers in different communities so please do well to buy for even your throw pillow at home. Thank you for availing yourselves to be here. God bless Nigeria! God bless Africa!” -YA
By – Omanudhowo Marymagdalene Onome